Upper Chest Breathing
Do you feel like you have been holding your Breath?
Are you chronically fatigued, anxious, panic attacks?
Are you breathing functionally?
Have you developed an altered breathing pattern?
Upper Chest Breathing
First, let us start with what functional breathing is,
in simplistic terms for such an extremely complex function.
Let’s start by explaining that we have two types of functional breathing; “resting” and “forced” inhalation and exhalation and which muscles we are utilizing.
During “resting inhalation and exhalation”, the diaphragm lengthens and shortens the thoracic (chest) cavity; the internal, upper and lateral intercostals muscles elevate the upper ribs, like “pump handles” and depress the lower ribs, like a “bucket handle”. This movement of the ribs up and down; increasing and decreasing the diameter of our chest cavity creating a vacuum within the chest; causing the lungs to fill on inhalation and empty on exhalation.
When we need that extra kick of oxygen we change to a “forced inhalation and exhalation” i.e. exercise, sex or stressful emotional periods. We bring into play our accessory breathing muscles Levator Costae, Scalenii (Anterior, Medius, Posterior) and Sternocleidomastoid which are all attached to either the 1st or 2nd rib and help create a even greater vacuum; allowing for more intake and volume with in the lungs.
An infant is the easiest example to observe on how your functional breathing should appear. Their stomach is what is moving up and down when they use their diaphragm, not the upper chest, as the lay there sleeping and utilizing “resting breathing”. And when they decide that their world is troubled and they need to scream out; they utilize “forced breathing”. We can observe the upper two ribs rise up; the shoulders raise and pull back just a hair all just before that first scream...
This functional breathing is not just a matter of how well oxygen is being supplied to your lungs; it also is directly and extremely influential to your mood, digestion system, and the function of your brain and nervous system.
In today’s world there exist a vast majority of individuals who suffer from Chronic Fatigue, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Phobic Behavior and suffer with musculoskeletal symptoms that exhibit an respiratory imbalance ‘paradoxical breathing’ by incorrectly breathing out of their Upper Chest.
Our Upper Chest Breathing patterns can develop as a physiologically normal adaptation to an acute/alarm situation, the fight-or-flight response.
As this tendency of Upper Chest Breathing becomes more pronounced or even chronic, a biochemical imbalance occurs due to excessive amounts of carbon-dioxide (CO2) during exhalation. This imbalance causes respiratory alkalosis, in other words “hyperventilation”.
The body’s first and foremost response to hyperventilation is cerebral vascular constriction, reducing oxygen availability by about 50% to the brain. This causes hypoxia (a lack of oxygen) in all the body tissue, especially the cerebral cortex, which depresses cortical activity.
The restriction of blood flow to the brain, leads to reduced motor skill control, increased agitation, a lower threshold for pain, ’foggy brain’ and emotional repercussions (anxiety, panic….etc).
Got your attention yet, of how Upper Chest Breathing is not a good thing, ok now think back to how the infant was using the diaphragm muscle. In Upper Chest Breathing patterns the diaphragm is not being utilized.
Not only is the diaphragm a main breathing muscle, it is also a major structural muscle. A dysfunctional respitory diaphragm provides inadequate support to the spine. Affecting the function of the pelvic floor, potentially causing pelvic pain.
W. Garland, 1994 describes a series of changes form from dysfunctional breathing pattern to including: “Visceral stasis/pelvic floor weakness, abdominal and erector spinae muscle imbalance, fascial restrictions from the central tendon via the pericardial fascia to the basi-occiput; upper-rib elevation with increased costal cartilage tension, thoracic spine dysfunction, and possible sympathetic disturbance; accessory breathing muscle hypertonia and fibrosis; promotion of rigidity in the cervical spine with promotion of fixed lordosis; reduction in mobility of second cervical segment; and disturbance of vagal outflow… and more.” These changes, he states, “Run physically and physiologically against biologically sustainable patterns, and in a vicious circle, promotes abnormal function which alters structure which then disallows a return to normal function.”
There is a light in this vicious cycle, “If normal diaphragmatic breathing function can be restored and the pelvic floor muscles retrained, many of these symptoms can also be helped.” R. Anderson et al 2005.
The most obvious visual means to detect Upper Chest Breathing, is the raising of the upper chest structures by means of the upper fixators of the shoulder and the auxiliary respitory muscles (upper trapezius, levator scapulae, scalenes and sternomastoid)(Hi-Lo Test).
Not only is Upper Chest Breathing an inefficient means of breathing, the constant strain on the muscles in the cervical region, leads to postural changes.
Possible Physical Features Associated with
Upper Chest Breathing
- Jaw, facial, and General Postural Tension
- Tremors, Tics, Twitches, Biting Nails
- Raised Shoulders
- Protracted Scapula
- Chest Wall Abnormalities
The following Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT) tests help determines which muscles are affected.
- Hi-Lo Test (shoulders raising)
- Scalene Overactivity Evaluation (clavicles raise on inhalation?)
- Upright Paradoxical Breathing Assessment (abdomen)
- Palpating and Assessing Aspects of Respiratory (dys)Function (lateral widening of the thorax)
- Breathing Wave Assessment (thoracic/lumbar restriction)
All sessions are tailored to each individual; the following is a possible treatment sequence of NMT for Upper Chest Breathing.
- Diaphragm area (anterior intercostals, sternum, abdominal attachments costal margin, Quadratus Lumborum/Psoas)
- Focusing on upper fixators/accessory breathing muscle (upper trapezius, levator scapulae, scalenes, strenocleidomastoid, pectorals, Latissimus).
- Additionally, the thoracic spine, elevated or depressed ribs, and lymphatic drainage.
All NMT treatment includes: Release and stretching of muscles if hypertonic and to identify and deactivate active trigger points within muscles.
“Research and clinical experience suggests that treatment and retraining for chronic breathing pattern disorders commonly involve up to twelve weekly sessions, followed by treatment every two to three weeks, up to approximately six months.” L. Chaitow, 2007.
All Murphy’s Law Neuromuscular Therapy sessions include: Client Education and suggestions for stretches, exercise and on proper diaphragm breathing at home and work.